“We’re bringing you an evening of Southern black girl magic tonight Portland.”
Adia Victoria summed up the evening perfectly when she uttered those words from the Mississippi Studios stage during a set that saw both she and impressive opener Amenta Abioto captivated the crowd with wildly original sets consisting of very different music.
Although her music had been recommended to me before, I went into Amenta Abioto’s set having no idea what to expect and had one of those “holy shit!” moments that make live music so exciting. Abioto’s music consists of her building songs live on stage via repeated loops of her soulful voice layered over different incarnations of itself—and Abioto can shift the tone and feel of her voice with amazing dexterity. Abioto alternated between hunching over her equipment and dancing animatedly while singing her ass off. High, low, intense, delicate; she ably executed each shift in tone in such a fashion that it was impossible to keep track of how many different layers she had going at once. Both Amenta Abioto’s music and performance were original in every sense of the word, and I was clearly not the only one taken aback by her performance, as the Portland-via-Memphis artist left the stage to rapturous applause—it’s been many moons since I’ve seen an opener receive such a send-off.
Not one to be outdone, Adia Victoria came onstage with the same air of effortless cool I’ve long associated with her, riding the momentum of Abioto’s set ably. I first caught Victoria’s live set last summer at Pickathon, and last night’s set made clear Victoria is an exciting, ever-evolving young talent with a big future ahead of her. Victoria’s brand of blues places them in a modern, “updated” context, while still keeping its feet anchoring in tradition. Beyond the arrangements—which range from avant-blues, to soul, to rock, even a bit of jazz—Adia Victoria’s chameleonic voice is a staggering gift that seemingly holds within it countless different characters. I heard more than one whisper “God, what a voice!” throughout her set, and I got the feeling a lot of folks would have paid to hear Victoria do vocal warm-ups.
As if on cue, as I was pondering Victoria’s vocal inflections between songs and wondering how far she could take it, the singer and her crack backing band launched into a jaunty French number, which Victoria later explain was going to be included on an upcoming EP consisting of covers of some of her favorite French pop songs. To throw two French pop numbers into a set of sultry and expressive blues music is outrageous—and it worked perfectly.
Getting folks into the blues in 2017 may seem a tall order, but it isn’t hard to imagine someone being sufficiently inspired by Adia Victoria to take a walk backward through history to check out the older versions of the art form, which is a high compliment for a modern blues artist. Far from the whitewashed, sanitized version of the blues we hear so often these days—Adia Victoria absolutely brings the ruckus, and her live set only serves to reinforce the fact that we have a special talent on our hands.
We could all use a little more Southern Black Girl Magic in our lives.